So, upon arriving back from Mexico, I was honored to discover that I had received a Golden Aardvark for this post about cultural behavior norms. Oh the sleepless nights of lying awake, wondering if I would ever be counted worthy for such a prestigious honor…

Not Wrong, Just Different

I think I taught somebody something today. It’s sad that that’s a sentence worth writing; after all, I am a teacher. But on most days, I’d be really surprised to learn that I had taught someone something that they remember and use appropriately ― even more so if it has anything to do with the subjects I teach. But what makes the fact that I taught something today even more amazing is that school’s out for the summer. I’m not even officially “on duty.”

Here’s what happened: My mom took my son and I out to a buffet restaurant. We were shown to one of those little areas that’s supposed to look like a dining room ― you know, divided off from the restaurant so it doesn’t look like you’re eating in an airplane hanger. Anyway, besides us there were three other occupied tables: a small table with a young-ish couple, another with two older ladies, and a huge table (must have been at least a fifteen-top) full of a happy, raucous, and quite boisterous Mexican family speaking Spanish. The kids were singing and picking on each other, the adults were enjoying each other’s company, and the abuela was just soaking it all in. Occasionally a grown-up would say something to one of the kids, but the others would just chortle at them and the games would continue.

I was enjoying listening to them, trying to learn some new words, and appreciating the energy and life they brought to the room… but I’m sure you can imagine at this point how the two older ladies were feeling and acting. I caught them rolling their eyes at each other at every imagined peccadillo of the niños, clucking their tongues at the overly permissive parents who would allow such behavior, and generally bemoaning their sorry luck at being placed in the same dining area as the noisy foreigners.

Then the Mexicans left. With besos and abrazos they headed out en masse, talking about how they’d see each other on Sunday for lunch. A dad told his daughter she wasn’t allowed to bring her bowl of helado with her, so she quickly spooned the rest into her mouth as she scurried after her brother. (I did not envy her the headache she was about to have.) Cousins got in parting jibes with each other, and someone diligently helped abuela out to the car. And then everything was very quiet.

I heard the waitress say to the old ladies (after she pocketed the generous tip the Mexicans had left, btw), “sure is nice and quiet in here now.” To which one of the ladies responded, “It’s about time.” More disparaging head nods followed, and the waitress left.

A few minutes later, she came back to find me gently scolding my son for making spit noises at the table. She told me sweetly, “Oh, don’t worry. He’s so much better behaved than some children. I can just imagine the kind of discipline that goes on in that house.”

I couldn’t help myself. I said, with the same tone of voice I use to correct my know-it-all seventh graders when they don’t actually know it all, something like, “No, you really can’t imagine the kind of discipline those kids get. Those parents just have different standards of what’s acceptable behavior, that’s all.”

She looked at me with skepticism and disdain, as if I were a “bad” parent about to start letting my kid run naked through her section. But she didn’t say anything, so I continued. “I’ve spent a lot of time in Spanish-speaking countries, and you’d be surprised how culturally different we are. What we see as loud and rude and making a scene, they see as being sincerely friendly and enjoying each other’s company whole-heartedly. And what we see as polite, well-mannered and with proper respect for others’ privacy, they see as rude and cold and stand-offish. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Maybe it’s just a matter of perspective.”

I heard one of the old ladies hmmph, but I think the waitress was starting to get it. I saw the young couple start to pay attention too. The waitress made some sort of comment, along the lines of, “I never thought about it like that before.” The dining room was even quieter than before as she left to keep doing her job. The old ladies in the corner continued their job, too, and started whispering to each other as if I wouldn’t notice.

Well, the waitress must have kept thinking about it like that, because ten minutes or so later she came back. “Were you in the service?” she asked me. “How did you get to travel so much?”

I told her I was a Spanish teacher. She gave me the same look that a person who has just said a swear word gives a clergyman they didn’t realize was standing right in front of them, like I was going to rip her apart right there on the spot. Instead, I gave her one of my many “multi-cultural misunderstanding” anecdotes.

“I was raised to eat everything on my plate,” I told her, and she nodded to say that she had too. “But I visited a country once where cleaning your plate is considered rude. Cleaning your plate implies that you haven’t been given enough to fill you up, and your hostess, feeling inadequate and very embarrassed, will promptly fill your plate again even if you’re completely stuffed. So you’re supposed to leave a little bit, as if to say, ‘that was amazing, but I can’t eat another bite.’ Then your hostess feels like she’s given you enough to eat and you haven’t insulted her.”

“I understand,” she said, and then she repeated the magic words that every teacher wants to hear, even if they come from a middle-aged waitress in an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant instead of the kids you get paid to educate: “I never thought about it like that before.” We ended up chatting for a few more minutes, but the thing I will try to remember from that conversation is the glimmer of hope for the future of our country that I saw when that waitress realized that her previous customers hadn’t been wrong, just different.

[The ironic footnote to this touching story of multicultural-diversity-awareness-training is that Sean ended up pitching a huge fit because he hadn’t eaten enough of his food to get to have dessert. I had to drag him out of the restaurant kicking and screaming and crying and fighting. So the old ladies got to see what a poorly-behaved white kid looked like as he learned the cultural importance of eating everything on his plate.]

A Headless Creation?

The following is a devotion based on Psalm 8.

Take a look outside tonight, and as soon as it gets dark you will understand Psalm 8. The night sky, the moon and the stars (and the quasars and black holes and galaxies and all the stuff we can’t see) all declare the praises of God. All of those things show God’s glory and power as Creator of the universe.

Listen in on a children’s Sunday school class some Sunday morning, and you will understand Psalm 8. The praise of God rolls off of the lips of children and infants, and out of the mouths of their teachers, as they learn about what Jesus has done and how to praise him. The mouths of his creatures declare God’s glory and love as Savior of the universe.

Psalm 8 is a song of praise to our Creator-God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Psalm 8 reminds us of God’s glorious creation, that even modern science is barely beginning to understand. Psalm 8 reminds us that the praises of children are a joy to God. Psalm 8 reminds us that as huge and vast as the universe is, God still showed his greatest love and his most awesome creative power in making human beings in his image and likeness. Psalm 8 also reminds us that man is the crown of God’s creation. God gave Adam dominion over all the animals, birds, and fish. God put everything in creation under man’s feet. Man is the head and the crown of God’s creation.

And if that were all there was, you could quit reading right now, content in your “First Article” knowledge of God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

But there’s more. Think about what happens in your life on a daily basis, and Psalm 8 doesn’t quite make as much sense as it did at first. Turn on the nightly news (or check the latest updates on your RSS feeds) and you’ll find some things that seem to contradict Psalm 8. Take a look:

The enemies of God aren’t yet silenced. Day after day atheists and followers of false religions stand up and proudly disparage the name of God. They slander God and persecute his people. And all the praises of all the children have yet to silence the foe and the avenger.

Mankind seems to be losing its battle for dominion of creation. Animals kill people. People kill each other, twisting chemicals and atoms into ever more powerful weapons of destruction. Our God-created bodies are constantly threatened by viruses and bacteria. Nature itself seems to be in rebellion against us, as tsunami and earthquakes, hurricanes and droughts kill thousands of people each year.

Even God’s providential care of the human race might be called into question. Why does he allow these things to happen? Faced with the almost insurmountable threats of disease and famine, war and pestilence, as we daily struggle with the assaults of Satan and our fellow men, we wonder if we are so insignificant that God doesn’t care for us anymore.

So what now? Is the Psalmist right to praise God, or isn’t he?

Mankind is the crown of God’s creation, the head over all things. But what happens to creation when the head is cut off?

Well, that’s exactly what has happened. Read Genesis chapter 3, the story of the fall into sin, and Psalm 8 will begin to make sense again. When Adam sinned and fell away from God, he lost the perfect image and likeness of God in which he had been made. Sin caused a separation between man and God. Because of that sin, Adam and all of his descendants had to die. What’s more, the entire universe, God’s perfect creation itself was cursed. The head was cut off (or rather, cut itself off) and now the corpse thrashes around on the ground waiting for death. Every day, we see the horrible effects of that first sin. Every day, we add our own sins to the wretched heap of pollution poisoning the world.

And then, Jesus came. The Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God begotten of the Father from all eternity, became man. Incarnate, the God-Man. He didn’t just become a man so that he could die. He became a man so that he could fight man’s fight for him, so that he could conquer the forces of evil to which Adam fell prey and which have enslaved mankind ever since. He became man to be the crown of God’s creation, to restore fallen humanity to the place it occupied before the Fall. Jesus Christ became the new Adam, the new Head of all creation, the new Head of the renewed human nature which is His body. Using the word of an ancient Church Father, Christ “recapitulates” mankind ― literally, “re-heads” us ― by doing for us what we through our sin had stopped doing.

Psalm 8 only really makes sense when we see that Christ is at the center of it. Christ was “made a little lower than the heavenly beings” at his incarnation, his state of humiliation when he declined to make full use of his divine power. At his resurrection, he was “crowned with glory and honor,” in his state of exultation, where he lives and rules at the right hand of God the Father, fully God but still fully man. He is the Head of all creation; “everything [is] under his feet.” In the great resurrection chapter, Corinthians 15, St. Paul reminds us that “everything” includes even death.

Adam’s sin brought death to all people. Our sin brings death to us. But now Christ’s victory brings life to all people. Adam lost dominion over creation, but Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, is right now ascended in heaven ruling over all things for the benefit of his people. He is the head, crowned with glory and honor, and we are the body, sharing in his blessings now and for all eternity.

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Amen.